There was far too much laughing and carrying on coming from the small assembly room in Cornelius for it to be a breast cancer support group. Yet the six women who sat in a circle, each having faced their own battle with the disease, just couldn’t contain themselves with all the joy and friendship in the room. They’re all members of the Lake Norman Breast Cancer Support Group, which offers sisterhood and educational services to women battling the disease. But don’t call them “survivors.” They prefer “warrior princesses.” “The term ‘survivor’ implies that we are somehow victims here,” says Carol White, 68, of Denver. “We are not victims nor does cancer define who we are. We are proactive warriors regarding our bodies and we find joy in every single day.” White and Mooresville resident Cathy Quade, 60, are co-leaders of the group, which was established in the mid-1990s. With no website and mostly word-of-mouth referrals, the secular group has about 70 members. They meet on the first Tuesday of each month to share their experiences and offer advice. Members range in age from early 20s to late 80s, says White. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetimes, and approximately 230,000 new cases were diagnosed in 2011. October is national Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Many women report that after being diagnosed with breast cancer they often feel isolated and distant from their friends and family, who, even though they want to help, just can’t relate to what they’re going through. Support groups offer emotional, spiritual and physical benefits as members can join together to both celebrate successes and offer comfort and help during trying times. “I didn’t even have a doctor when I got my diagnosis,” says Quade. “The support group became the place where I could compare notes, get recommendations and learn from others.” Support group member Sandy O’Keefe of Huntersville says that when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer she was overwhelmed. “I was thrown into a world I didn’t know or understand, with a new and intimidating language. My world was both spinning out of control and stopping at the same time.” O’Keefe, 48, says initially she didn’t seek out support, and went through chemotherapy and reconstruction surgery on her own. Looking back on her experiences, she now realizes she should have sought help sooner, and encourages other women to join a support group before their treatment in order to better understand and manage the process. “These women have been through it all,” says O’Keefe. “To gain the benefit of their experience and to see that there is indeed wonderful, joyful life after cancer as you are beginning to deal with it for yourself is invaluable.” Marti Vandebon of Cornelius was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. At the time, she and her family were living overseas, but Vandebon decided to seek treatment in the Charlotte area. “I left my daughter, son and husband and was here on my own,” says Vandebon, 52. “It was a pretty dark time. When I came to my first (support group) meeting one of the younger girls was celebrating her pregnancy, and it made me realize that there is life after cancer.” In addition to providing hope for women battling cancer, the support group also offers valuable education and insight. Members help maintain up-to-date information about cancer treatments and doctors, and what to expect once treatment starts. There’s also a lengthy member contact list, with someone available to talk to at all times. “Almost everyone when first diagnosed runs out and gets a huge book on experiencing breast cancer, and about 10 pages into it find themselves incredibly depressed,” says member Elise Canipe, 49, of Huntersville. “My experience is there is so much more to learn and be gained from sharing your situation with others that have lived it. There is an immediate and permanent bond formed with each and every member of the group--we are here for each other.”
More information: Lake Norman Breast Cancer Support Group Meetings are the first Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. Walker Family Chiropractic 20501 N Main St. Cornelius Contacts: Cathy Quade: 704-662-0770 or Carol White: 704-489-2711
Debunking breast cancer myths
By Elisabeth Arriero
During the month of October, it’s hard to go anywhere without seeing pink, which is one of the more visible ways people and businesses show their support for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Despite the month’s prominence – as well as the fact that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime – there are still plenty of myths about breast cancer. Dr. Craig Evans with Presbyterian Hospital – Huntersville, and Dr. Seungjean Chai with Carolinas HealthCare System in Cornelius, debunk the most common myths.
MYTH: A breast cancer diagnosis automatically means the woman will need a mastectomy.
The majority of breast cancer treatments do not require a mastectomy. More often, doctors will perform a lumpectomy or administer radiation. “A lot of women come in and they’ve got on their mind to just chop it off and that’s going to be the end of it,” says Evans. “In at least 70 percent of my patients that I see, we can do a breast-saving procedure and have the same cure rate as a mastectomy.”
MYTH: The radiation from regularly scheduled mammograms will put you at increased risk of breast cancer
The dose of radiation during a mammogram is quite small, said Evans. Given that, he recommends women start getting regular mammograms at 40 and at 35 if they have a family history of it.
MYTH: You can’t get breast cancer after a mastectomy.
Although the chances are very small, it’s still possible to have a recurrence in the chest wall after a mastectomy, says Chai.
MYTH: If you don’t have a family history of breast cancer, you’re not at risk of developing it.
The majority of new patients that Evans sees each year have no family history of breast cancer. “A very small percentage has the inherited form,” he says. “No breast cancer in your family does not exclude you from getting breast cancer.”
MYTH: Women with naturally lumpy breasts are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
While Chai says mammograms for women with lumpy breasts may be more difficult to read, “it’s not impossible and a good mammographer can do it.” And lumpy breasts don’t make a woman automatically more likely to develop breast cancer, he says.
MYTH: Fertility treatments increase the risk of breast cancer.
Chai believes this myth came out of the thinking that the earlier a woman has her first period and the older she is when she starts menopause, the more likely she is to develop breast cancer. “A short period of hormonal manipulation to get pregnant should not cause that kind of problem,” says Chai. “There’s no indication that fertility treatment would cause breast cancer.”
MYTH: Breast implants can increase your risk of cancer
“There are basically no known cases of breast cancer caused by an implant,” says Chai. Breast implants may make it more difficult, however, to perform a mammogram, especially if the implants are placed right below the skin, covering the natural breast. The proper procedure would be to put the implant below the natural breast so that it’s easier to discover possible cancerous growths during mammograms.
MYTH: Small-chested women are not at risk of developing breast cancer.
Whether you’re an A cup or a double D cup, you’re equally at risk of developing breast cancer, says Evans. Evans added that there does seem to be a link between obese women and a higher risk of developing breast cancer, however. “But that doesn’t have anything to do with the size of your breast. That has to do with the size of your body,” he said.